Daily Reflection
February 18th, 2003
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
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Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10
Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 8, 9-10
Mark 8:14-21

There's basically one truly human response to the God spoken of in the Genesis passage - "Look out!"  This story IS part of our tradition and yet, at this point in my life, I have a difficult time with it.  That's very probably because I haven't heard a good explanation for it - I do hold out that as a possibility.  But, at this point I don't like that vengeful picture of God much at all.

However, the picture of Jesus peppering his disciples with questions isn't the most appealing image either.  Is he frustrated that the disciples just don't get it?  Jesus' way of going after them only serves to render the obvious more apparent.  Let's face it, the disciples are dolts. 

So, what about you and me?  What about "guarding against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod?"  Do we get it?

Let me suggest two things here: First, the leaven of the Pharisees, I believe, has to do with the most basic temptation of good religious people to pretend that we're better than we are, to hide from or lock away our resistance to God and rebellion against God. Religious people usually are good church goers, like you and me.  "Houston, we have a problem!"

Second, I have my students read an article for "Sacraments" class that is quite challenging.  It's by Mark Searle, entitled "The Journey of Conversion" (Worship, 1980).  After spending a good part of the article showing the benefits of ritual, he concludes the articles with three observations about how ritual can fail.  I think these observations could help us 'religious types' who like to go to church. 

First, ritual can protect a person, a community from the terrors of chaos "out there" and so insulate people from any depth experience at all.  Thus, people end up bypassing those parts of their lives that would draw them into greater depths.  The depth that the liturgy draws us into is that of the paschal mystery, the mystery of the God who pours out the divine life on our behalf.

Second, since ritual offers a safe place in which to encounter the Divine, as well as the full and final meaning of one's existence, it also "carries with it the danger of manipulation of the Sacred."  We make God over in our own image.  Thus, when the liturgy merely serves to confirm my 'domesticated version of God' I fall into idolatry.

Finally, liturgy can also serve the very human project of maintaining the status quo.  That is, human beings tend to worship publicly in such a way that we are able to directly resist the coming of the Kingdom of God in favor of "the way things are."

Our Christian public worship of God is a scary place to go if we know, or even sense, that we risk our lives when we walk in through that door and mark ourselves with the sign of the cross.  It's not ritual that fails, it's you and me who put up the barriers to being molded into "other Christs."

Recall the image of St. Francis of Assisi - and many of the other great saints - who joyfully embraced the mystery of Christ' death and resurrection in their daily lives.  They actually found the true meaning of  their lives by welcoming that which only seems to be about death and loss.  May God grant us good religious people the grace of being true and real before the Mystery.   

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